Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh inscribed right: Aetatis suae 34 An(no) 1588 ("In the year 1588 of his age 34") and left: with his motto Amore et Virtute ("By Love and Virtue"). National Portrait Gallery, London
Arms of Raleigh of Fardell: Gules, five fusils conjoined in bend argent
Sir Walter Raleigh (i/; c. 1552 (or 1554) – 29 October 1618), also spelled Ralegh, was an English landed gentleman, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer. He was cousin to Sir Richard Grenville and younger half-brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He is also well known for popularising tobacco in England. Raleigh was one of the most notable figures of the Elizabethan era.
In 1594, Raleigh heard of a "City of Gold" in South America and sailed to find it, publishing an exaggerated account of his experiences in a book that contributed to the legend of "El Dorado". After Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, Raleigh was again imprisoned in the Tower, this time for being involved in the Main Plot against King James I, who was not favourably disposed towards him. In 1616, he was released to lead a second expedition in search of El Dorado. During the expedition, men led by his top commander ransacked a Spanish outpost, in violation of both the terms of his pardon and the 1604 peace treaty with Spain. Raleigh returned to England and, to appease the Spanish, he was arrested and executed in 1618.
Arms of Katherine Champernowne, mother of Sir Walter Raleigh, impaled by the arms of her first husband Otes Gilbert. Churston Ferrers Church
Little is known about Raleigh's birth but he is believed to have been born on 22 January 1552 (or possibly 1554, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). He grew up in the house of Hayes Barton, in the parish of East Budleigh in South Devon. He was the youngest of the five sons of Walter Raleigh (1510–1581) (or Rawleigh) of Fardel Manor in the parish of Cornwood, in South Devon. His family is generally assumed to have been a junior branch of the de Raleigh family, 11th century lords of the manor of Raleigh, Pilton in North Devon, although the two branches are known to have borne entirely dissimilar coats of arms, adopted at the start of the age of heraldry (c.1200-1215). His mother was Katherine Champernowne, his father's 3rd wife, the 4th daughter of Sir Philip Champernowne (1479-1545), lord of the manor of Modbury, Devon, by his wife Catherine Carew, a daughter of Sir Edmund Carew (d.1513) of Mohuns Ottery in in the parish of Luppitt, Devon, and widow of Otes Gilbert (1513-1546/7) of Greenway in the parish of Brixham and of Compton Castle in the parish of Marldon, both in Devon. Katherine Champernowne's paternal aunt was Kat Ashley, governess of Queen Elizabeth I, who introduced the young men at court. The coat of arms of Otes Gilbert and Katherine Champernowne survives in a stained glass window in Churston Ferrers Church, near Greenway. Sir Walter's half-brothers John Gilbert, Humphrey Gilbert, and Adrian Gilbert, and his full brother Carew Raleigh were also prominent during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.
Raleigh's family was highly Protestant in religious orientation and had a number of near escapes during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen Mary I of England. In the most notable of these, his father had to hide in a tower to avoid execution. As a result, Raleigh developed a hatred of Roman Catholicism during his childhood, and proved himself quick to express it after Protestant Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. In matters of religion, Elizabeth was more moderate than her half sister Mary.